Beach Party

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Firoz sleeps with his head on one side and grunts between snores. Googoosh has played with her hair for hours and now wears three thin braids either side of her face.

Rudi has abandoned the bench so Awenasa can stretch out. He lies sprawled over bergens in the centre of the narrow fuselage. Hands behind his head he stares at the ceiling.

Elodie calls from the firebird cockpit, “Eight minutes. Vogel, I need at least three hours’ sleep before flying again.”

Vogel leans her head against the vibrating fuselage wall. “We’ve lost three…” She falls silent for a moment. “And we need another pilot.”

Rudi rises and steadies himself by grasping either side of the cockpit entrance. He asks Elodie, “How hard is it to deal with one of these? I can fly light aircraft.” He gets no answer so he goes on, “Only single-engined props but it’s how I get from job to job. I’ve flown them for years. Over seven hundred hours logged.”

I heard you – I’m thinking. Very well, strap in and we’ll see how you get on. This is totally different but not exactly hard.”

More than anything Rudi is glad to be away from the endless tedium of dozing in the fuselage. Elodie yawns, rubs her face and adds, “We have a few minutes of straight and level then a VTOL descent. Hold the controls and feel what I do. Feel, do not apply any pressure. If I shout stop, get your hands away immediately – this is likely to happen during the descent: be ready.”

In the fuselage Firoz looks at his wristcomm. “Black level message. What is it, Vogel?”

I’ve seen it. That’s why we need to move on. We’re wanted near Athabasca but not near enough to arouse suspicion. Don’t ask me what that’s about. No details yet.”

I thought we were going to the Chad, then it changed to the Virgin Islands…”

This is our life: get used to it. Athabasca maybe. It’ll be a red alert if we get called. Until then we have a break and I want to do something if we have time.” She looks at faces. “He’s called Gabriel. He’s good, disciplined and trustworthy, top quality at long range. We could do with him. Cover act is artist, quite famous actually; real job is probably guarding smuggler bosses. First we need to find out where he is. There’s bad blood between us that needs to be cleared up first. I can’t walk into his studio and expect a warm welcome. Who knows about art? It’ll have to be Elodie, Rudi or Googoosh; Gabriel may recognise the rest of us and you can be sure his security cameras will have face recognition.”

Elodie calls back, “Strap in. Spanish Town in one minute. I like art but I like sleep a lot more.”

Rudi, get into civvies and go to the gallery. Ask to see the artist. If he’s in, tell him I want to see him. If not, find out when he’ll be back and give the receptionist my contact details. Awenasa and Firoz, guard the bird in turns with me, Googoosh and Gianina. Rudi, stick your PHALANX wristcomm in a bag. Everyone else, this is a good time to train Googoosh in rapid deployment. Go!”

Buckles clatter, helmets and weapons are readied. The squad hang onto overhead straps, knees bent to absorb shock and ready to sprint.

Rudi watches the descent, hears the squad deploy, unstraps and goes to one of his bergens. “This is going to look silly. I’ve only cold weather gear.” He goes into the toilet and emerges moments later in a fleece shirt, fleece-lined trousers and orange chainsaw boots. Leaving the firebird he says, “I’m gonna die of heat exhaustion. Anyone have shorts and a T-shirt that would fit me?”

Googoosh laughs. Still with her eyes through gunsights and scanning among the wave-rounded rocks and rough inland scrub she says, “I’ve got a bikini.”

Thank you for that. I’ll go like this and try to merge in with the locals.” His boots crunch on sand. “Yow! It’s hot here…”

Googoosh calls out. “Hey, it’s beautiful. Look at you. You look like a lumberjack.”

Vogel speaks through the squad radio, “Stay focussed, Googoosh! If you’re looking at him you’re looking in the wrong place.”

OK, sorry.”

All clear. Awenasa and Firoz stand down for an hour then relieve us.”

~

Gianina’s scanning the south west shore and rocks In the last forty minutes nothing has moved apart from a couple with their dog. They left the beach at a run as soon as they saw the firebird. “Vogel, I need to look as if I’m off duty and going for a leak.”

Awenasa, out here. Gianina, where do you want Firoz?”

Inside with something long-range. Everyone look relaxed. A shadow just fell among the rocks – the centre one next to the big one covered in bushes.” Awenasa squats beside her. Gianina says, “As you sweep right. Centre rock. Top. Lateral crack. Two flat stones, shadow about four centimetres to the right.”

Got it.”

Keep me informed. See you in a bit.” She rises, slings her rifle over a shoulder and stretches like a waking cat. Walking towards the scrub she stops to pick up shells, study and toss them aside.

Lips pressed together in a tight smile, Gianina relishes the moment. Now she’s hidden in scrub. Heart rate rising, muscles relaxing, her nonchalant saunter turns to flowing serpent-like movements. Silence and speed are old friends – essential tools for assassins. She’s half way to her target and completely concealed when Awenasa shouts through an opened visor, “Get out of sight, I can see your ass.”

Awenasa, that was clever.” Gianina heads south behind a small conical rise and drops to ground level, creeping elbow by elbow, legs dragging behind as she worms her way forward. The plants are so dense here she can’t see further than half way along her rifle until she inches over the edge of a low cliff and into daylight.

Awenasa says, “Shadow gone.”

Gianina stares through her sights. “Brown skinned, stocky, 90 kilos, thirties. Very short black hair. Gold necklace and watch-strap. Red T-shirt stained with several colours… He’s been disturbed by something behind him.”

Vogel says, “That sounds like him. Must have seen the bird landing and come out to investigate.”

Awenasa hisses. “Rudi’s coming back that way.”

The man has a carbine…” Gianina gasps and falls quiet as a silenced pistol presses against her head and a voice whispers. “Drop your weapon.”

Gianina recognises the voice She snorts and chuckles. “Where the fuck did you come from?”

The soft-spoken woman, her voice full of humour says, “That has to be the first time I’ve caught you out. You nearly had me pissing myself when you arrived. I thought it was a snake.” The pistol is removed. “Anyway, he’s mine.”

No – Vogel wants him.”

Vogel’s there – in that firebird? In UN uniform! Is she mad? They throw away the key…”

Long story but if that’s Gabriel we want him to join us – you too.”

It’s a contract…”

We’ll sort it. Has he got backup?”

No he left alone. It was so easy to follow him. Thought it was my lucky day.”

Vogel, I’m going to show myself to Gabriel – he’s creeping back. I think Rudi spooked him or he’s worried I haven’t appeared again. Yi-Ting, take my rifle, cover me.”

Yi-Ting rolls into Gianina’s position and takes aim. Gianina’s standing and waving. “Gabriel, Gianina here, easy now, we need to talk.”

In one flowing movement the man rolls, levels and squints into the sun – but Gianina is already out of sight. He shouts, “Who is Gianina?”

Scorpion Net. We worked together in Bremen. Banker and his lover…”

I got you now.”

Wait there, I’m coming down.”

Keep your hands where I can see them.”

Chill for fuck’s sake.” Thorns tear at her combats as she struggles down, arms held high.

Gabriel calls, “Why should I trust anyone disguised as UN?”

It’s not a disguise.” She takes a longer route to avoid high bushes and the risk of being out of sight. Reaching him she adds, “Vogel wants to speak to you. She says there’s bad blood between you but you must both put that in the past.”

Vogel? Vogel?” He locks his rifle and slings it over a shoulder. “Bad blood? What she did to me was all part of the job. We were on different sides – her side won. Yes I would love to strangle Vogel but not until I have shaken her hand. What does she want?”

She wants you to join the UN.” Gianina nods in the direction of the firebird. “Follow me.” Stones clatter as she reaches a slope and glissades with Gabriel. They end up laughing and buried knee-deep. The towering rocks bathe them in cool shade.

Vogel strides towards them unarmed. “I’ll happily shake your hand, Gabriel.” She glares at Gianina and opens her mouth to speak but Gianina gets there first.

I did not disarm myself. I was covered and I’m still covered. Don’t even think about reprimanding me. I knew what I was doing.”

As Yi-Ting slithers down the same slope Vogel looks back at Gabriel. “We need you in the UN. You’ll follow me?”

At soldier’s pay?”

It’s either that or we die. I was enlisted by no other than Safronov. The world is losing this war. We either fight together and possibly survive or die piecemeal.”

Gabriel rubs the stubble on his wide jaw. “You? Safronov…” He nods towards the squad, “all these people?”

And hundreds of others, all Perera’s, Meen’s…”

I’d work with you but I can’t escape this contract.”

Yi-Ting arrives at his side, returns Gianina’s rifle and faces Gabriel. “I’m about to break a contract.”

What madness is this?”

A contract on you. If it hadn’t been for Gianina you’d be dead.”

Gabriel’s dark eyes widen in astonishment. “What? On me? Who are you? Who sent you?”

Yi-Ting’s slender shoulders barely shrug. She murmurs, “As if I’d know. I’m Yi-Ting. Gianina’s my half-sister.”

Vogel says, “Yi-Ting with me. I have ways of finding out who’s paying to kill Gabriel. In the meantime,” she nods at him, “make a decision.” She turns and walks towards the firebird, Yi-Ting beside her.

Gabriel jerks his chin towards the squad and asks Gianina. “Who is here?”

Awenasa, Firoz … the others are conscripts you don’t know.”

Others? I see only one more.”

Rudi emerges from behind the rock and pushes an automatic back into his backpack. His eyebrows rise. “Well, you know … people looked tense as I came down the beach.” He holds out a hand to Gabriel. “Hi, I’m Rudi.”

Gianina and Yi-Ting walk back to Gabriel. “Eriya Makusa. Owns a shipping line that runs from here.”

Gabriel’s fists tighten. “That’s the man who employs me. Shit.” He looks away.

Vogel says, “Easily sorted. Take him out. Problem solved.”

Gabriel closes his eyes, head shaking slowly. “Not easily solved.”

Yi-Ting says, “Are you wanting to join this squad, yes?”

It’s my only hope of survival. I will be hunted for the rest of my life.”

It is very easily solved. You tell me all about him, get me near him and I do the rest. It will be fun. Then we join these people.”

Gabriel’s eyes open, eyebrows rise. “You would help me? … why?”

Yi-Ting chuckles. “I like your paintings and could do with a couple.”

Two? Shit! that’s about sixty thou…”

There is a third I quite like…”

Two will do.”

That’s settled then. Come, we go now. Not much time.”

Holy crap.”

Vogel snaps out, “Call us when you’re ready. Rule one: when you join us – no swearing.”

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©Christy & Gary Bonn 2015

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